I interviewed Allan on the
next evening after the recording was finished. We sat before an
open fire with a good bottle of Bordeaux.
Allan, what inspired you to do this album?
The head of Flamingo Music, Marion
Kaempfert, asked me to do something with just brass (maybe because
the family is so brassy), to arrange some standards and pop tunes
without rhythm group.
So it was Marion's idea, originally?
Yes. I would never have thought of
such a thing. It was an order... an offer, and the challenge excited
my imagination. I thought I could do all kinds of things with
Especially strange things, new things.
In fact it is quite a new thing.
Well, the idea of brass alone is not
so new, but it has turned out quite new. A brass band is not new...
But how you use it...
You already did one recording with Derek,
Bart and Erik of standards, for brass without rhythm group. This
album is all your compositions except, of course, the Brahms.
On the first tape, there were some
compositions of mine also, and Marion liked them so much, she
said, why not do a whole album.
When did you write these pieces? I think
you said it was a rather short time.
Yes, I wrote most or the material in one
week in my parents' holiday house, which incidentally may be washed
away in the next storm, taken by king Neptune. I was able to work
very concentrated because I was up there all alone and could start
in the morning and work all day.
You had certainly thought about the kinds
of pieces you wanted to write before you went to work.
Yes, of course. I collected ideas while I
was touring, but in fact, most of it happened there.
The arrangements demand extremes. I don't
think I've ever seen any arrangements that demand such extremes
of range, articulation, phrasing, and, how should I say it, imitation
of other instruments. Why did you write such demanding music?
I was able to work with the best people in
Europe, perhaps the best in the world, and one of the main ideas
of this production was to show what is possible with brass instruments,
to see also what these masters could do. Therefore many things
have been written on the border of the possible, specifically
written for these musicians. I know their limits and sometimes
did just a little more...
Just one note higher...
Yes, just one more note. So when they go
home, they know that they can do a little more than they thought
they could. In fact they appreciated it and we all had a lot of
That is something which one can hear on
the tape. You can really feel the enthusiasm, that tension, especially
where it gets demanding.
That was the only way to get it.
Apart from the psychological aspect of
challenging the musicians, did you have specific musical intentions
for writing such exacting arrangements?
As I was writing the pieces, I could hear
these particular musicians playing those lines. Not just any trombone,
but Bart playing his trombone. So the musical ideas and the fact
that I was writing for these cats can't be separated. I really
dislike writing for just any possible player.
Well, what about writing in a jazz style
without any rhythm instruments, you said it wasn't originally
Yes, I said at first, "Jesus Christ,
this will never work", because this kind of music is always
and typically based on a rhythm group. The jazz and pop music,
but especially the pop music is all rhythm. If there are any horns
they're usually backing. Drums and bass in front. So it was, at
first, really an experiment. After the first recording I knew
what was going on.
There are some classical models for brass
without rhythm, but the only models I can think of where non-rhythm
instruments play such rhythmic music are classical works of Ravel
Yes, but the type of music that these musicians
wrote is completely different. Their pieces are not built over
a continuous rhythm, a groove. Working in modern rhythmic styles,
without a rhythm group, is more tricky... to keep it from being
Allan, would you explain how you went about
this process of replacing the rhythm group.
Well, you need a bass line. That's always
the most important thing in popular music. So you have the basstrombone
It gives you not only the harmonic bass,
but also the rhythmic bass.
That's right. Then you need something to
support the rhythmic feeling, so you add some trombone and trumpet
figures, so that it all together makes a rhythmic mosaic.
But you didn't make an effort to replace
the drum set.
You see, all brass players love to play without
drums, because drums somehow kill the sound of the brass. For
example the cymbals share the same overtones with the high brass,
and the toms are in the trombone register, and the bass drum is
in the lower trombone and tuba register. So the drums more or
less cover everything up. Pianissimo can't exist in a big band
because then only the drums would be heard.
In other words, you were happy to do away
with the drums?
If there were a drum set, a lot of the figures
would be left out. So it is necessary when you write without rhythm
group to put more in for the horns.
One thing I don't miss at all is the usual
snare drum accentuation of the brass figures - a good drummer
hits them all.
Yes, if you have a mezzopiano section and
the trumpets come in with accented chords, then you don't need
the drums, but if the whole level is always loud, the brass need
the accents from the drum to get the same effect. I mean, if you
listen to pop records, it's all drums, drums, drums. They take
8 days for the drum sound, and half an hour for the trumpets.
Here's to the drummers, First brass evening
Cheers. I do like drummers... the good ones.
One thing that is especially remarkable,
perhaps even a historical first, is the use of brass to imitate
other instruments or instrumental groups. For instance the wonderfully
deceptive banjo sound in "Don't Shoot The Banjo Player"
or the guitars in the "lnterlude". What brought you
to invent such imitations?
It's pretty clear. If you want to write in
different modern styles, and that was also a goal of this project,
then you must imitate certain other instruments in order to be
able to come close to that style.
In the "lnterlude" Erik does
a great imitation of a string bass, every note with a slight percussive
Yes, you can write that for him, but not
for just any tuba player.
My other favorite section is the celesta
imitation in "The Lady In Blue". No one would think
that it was trumpets.
That was a lot of fun. Organizing it using
two muted trumpets on 8 tracks, and getting it rhythmically precise.
Allan, did you write this music with a
particular public in mind, or is it specially for brass players?
No, it's for all brass lovers, people who
like to listen to brass music, and also for people who like to
listen to good music, good melodies. I've tried to make good melodies,
not just gimmicks. The theme is the most important thing in all
music, even in 12 tone modern classical music. You can do very
extreme things in voicing and harmony if you have a strong melody.
When you start writing, do you start with
a melody or with a chord progression?
My favorite way to write is to have lots
of time, no distractions, and just let it come. After a while,
it does come, just like putting money in an automat and out it
comes. But there are no rules. Sometimes a whole melody comes
or just the first four bars, and then the next day four more bars.
Sometimes I find a chord progression I like and then write a melody
on it. Every title came in a different way.
Do you imagine it would be possible to
give a live concert of this music?
Yes, but I wouldn't like to play in it. It
would be very difficult. We would also need more players. In every
piece, each of us plays at least two parts.
That's right, you often write for four
trumpets, four flugelhorns, four trombones, tuba and euphonium.
That's my preprinted paper. But yes, we all
play many parts.
Do you play all the flugelhorn parts and
Derek the trumpets?
No, we each play two parts of each, Derek
the high parts, and I the low parts. Bart plays first and second
trombone parts, Erik plays third trombone, basstrombone and tuba.
When you tape, do you usually have two
people play together at one time?
Yes, we often play together, it gives a better
feeling, but sometimes it's not possible.
Do you ever all four play together?
Only on the "Wiegenlied". The sound
engineers, of course, prefer to have each instrument alone on
a track, but from a musical standpoint, it's better to have more
people playing at the same time. The recording process also gives
the music a special quality, in that 12 or 16 parts are played
by four players.
Yes, I think of that trumpet section work
in "Toot Your Roots" The phrasing is just incredible.
I doubt if you could get a whole section to play it so precisely.
That's right. It's more precise, but it can
be dangerous, because if can very easily become boring.
Well, that is certainly not boring. It
sounds like one trumpet playing in chords, more like a color than
Well, it's also written on the border of
the possible for very good players.
Another thing that is so impressive about
this recording is the intonation. I don't know of any recording
of any brass music where the intonation is so perfect.
That's something you should write on the
But it's true. How, when you're recording,
using the overdub method, playing 16 parts separately, do you
stay so incredibly in tune?
There's only one answer... don't tune up.
You never tune the instruments?
No, just open your ears and play what you
So you all have perfect pitch?
No, just perfect intonation.
I guess you could say that the four players
on this album are in tune in the soul.
Each one of us is actually very different,
even in intonation, but the sign of a good player is his ability
to play together with other good musicians.
I agree completely, and I'm sure the people
who listen to this album will also agree. Thank you for the interesting
and informative interview, Allan, I enjoyed the talk as much as